The AFL community has rallied round Melbourne forward Mitch Clark, who announced his retirement on Tuesday at the age of 26 to focus on his battle with depression.
Clark, who was the subject of an intense fight for his signature after deciding to leave Brisbane at the end of the 2011 season, made the call after struggling with injury for much of his time with the Demons.
Clark fractured the Lisfranc joint in his right foot in 2012 and suffered a setback to the injury the following year. He rejoined the club for pre-season training late last year, but fell victim to hamstring and calf strains.
He announced last month he would step away from the game to focus on his health, and has now decided to call time on his AFL career after 97 games, just 15 of them for Melbourne.
Hard to put a retirement speech into a tweet. I just want to thank everyone for your support throughout my career.
— Mitch Clark (@MitchClark11) April 8, 2014
Former Hawthorn and North Melbourne player Nathan Thompson, who was diagnosed with depression during his own playing days, commended Clark for making the choice to step down.
“The fact that he’s made the tough decision to look after his health and get that sorted out, it’s a huge call but I think it’s the right call and I certainly wish him all the best with it,” Thompson told SEN.
“I do commend Mitch and the football club and whoever helped him come to the decision that your health’s got to come first.
“It’s very debilitating, it’s quite torturous. It’s something that saps you of any energy, of any motivation or any real drive.
“I describe it to people, just from my own experience and I actually don’t know what Mitch is going through exactly, but I was tortured by my own thoughts.
“And trying to do that under a pressurised occupation like AFL football just doesn’t go.”
Essendon coach Mark Thompson said there is not enough support for footballers battling mental health issues.
“It’s not just in footy, but I suppose this industry does get heavily scrutinised and it can be quite a difficult game to play,” Thompson said on 3AW.
“There’s a lot of negative feedback in our industry, so you have to be able to cope with that side of it.
“You’d be surprised. There’s probably a lot of people with different degrees of [depression].
“They need love and support and there’s probably not enough of that.”
Wayne Schwass, who also battled depression during his playing career with North Melbourne and Sydney, wrote on Twitter that Clark would not be alone in AFL circles.
North Melbourne skipper Andrew Swallow took to Twitter to pay tribute to his former junior teammate.
Other AFL players offered support to Clark.
@MitchClark11 all the best mate and hope you are doing ok ! Hopefully catch up for a brew one of these days .
— Andrew Raines (@rainesy29) April 8, 2014
Sad to hear about the @MitchClark11 situation. Showing the other side of football and the challenges! Wishing him all the best in the future
— Phil Davis (@phildavis_1) April 8, 2014
@MitchClark11 all the best my friend.
— jamesmagner (@jamesmag23) April 8, 2014
Football is so far off the most important thing in life. Best wishes to @MitchClark11 for a return to health. good luck for the next chapter
— Ty Vickery (@TyVickery29) April 8, 2014